When we understand the struggles faced by many of our students, the connection between character development and our efforts to build equitable and inclusive schools becomes clear. Young people will be more able to develop and demonstrate character attributes such as respect for human dignity, empathy and a commitment to fairness, when these values and attitudes are embedded in their own lives.
We know that our students do not leave their lives at the door when they enter the classroom. We are always interacting with the whole student, and as we strive to centre diverse student voices in our practice, we can expect those voices to be affected by their own life history and circumstances.
As educators, we are aware of our capacity to greatly influence student experience at school, though we are also cognizant that this impact is limited. We witness daily the negative impact of socially constructed power imbalances on student capacity to engage at school. Though we may very much hope to do so, we cannot singlehandedly eliminate our students’ experiences of injustice.
And yet when students’ voices are heard, validated and acknowledged, we can often observe their passion and energy to creatively engage with their learning and school environment. We can play an important role in helping facilitate students’ discovery of their own voice. For many students, discovering their own voice is intimately connected to discovering and choosing their identity and connection to a larger collective. Youth empowerment is then a process of individual and collective empowerment founded on a social justice framework.